Media & Communications Policy

Media & Communications Policy

Issues & Developments in the Realm of Communications and Media Policy & the First Amendment

‘Freedom From Speech’

Posted in First Amendment, Free speech, Journalism

Evidence that the human race is not yet won, as a former colleague used to say, is coming in the windows.  From murder in the name of religion, to widespread crime, greed, and violence, to the bottoming of popular culture, it’s pretty clear that this is not mankind’s finest hour.  But enough about mankind, generally speaking.

The subject of today’s tutorial is that little slice of homo erectus living in the USA, and practicing the politics of proto-fascism.  And who are such people, you wonder?  Well, they’re to be found among  activists, journalists, college professors; wherever, in other words, “progressives” congregate in especially large numbers.

It is these worthies who have foisted upon us the deeply undemocratic and freedom-busting protocols of political correctness.  Think about it: We have now arrived as a nation at a time when people who say anything that gives (or could give) offense to any minority – with the exception of white, Christian, heterosexual and Republican men, about whom no amount of criticism or ridicule is sufficient – may find themselves expelled or unemployed, if not under arrest, the constitutional guarantee of free speech notwithstanding.

It is a time when certain taxpayer-funded colleges and universities allow free speech on campus only within designated “free speech zones,” and sometimes not even there.  A time when textbooks must come with “trigger warnings,” lest a reader feel threatened or uncomfortable with the contents therein.

It’s a time when colleges are routinely the site of “disinvitation” campaigns aimed at preventing speakers from appearing on campuses, and when colleges formulate so-called campus speech codes.

It’s because of his concern with this cultural void that Greg Lukianoff, head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has written a new book titled Freedom from Speech.  Published just recently by Encounter Books, this slim volume is must reading for anyone who senses that things are going badly wrong on campuses and beyond, and wants to know what to do about it.

What Lukianoff is doing, in addition to writing books, is challenging colleges with litigation, aided by Bob Corn-Revere, the terrific First Amendment lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine.  (It should be noted, in the interest of full disclosure and a measure of chest-thumping, that both Lukianoff and Corn-Revere are members of The Media Institute’s First Amendment Advisory Council.)

A justly flattering review of Lukianoff’s book, written by Ronald Collins in Concurring Opinions, provides this telling quote: “This is a surreal time for freedom of speech.  While the legal protections of the First Amendment remain strong, the culture is obsessed with punishing individuals for allegedly offensive speech utterances.”

And it’s this dichotomy: strong legal protections, undermined by weak and/or contradictory applications of the law in the culture generally, that goes to the heart of the problem, and its seeming intractability.

If this situation is to improve, two things need to come to pass: First, some of the colleges being challenged with lawsuits need to defend their positions in court (rather than just buckling under at the threat of litigation) and then lose decisively and painfully; and second, there needs to be some measure of genuine opprobrium attached to the practices, on campuses and everywhere else, of the speech police.

In the meantime, there are a few things people troubled by all this can do.  They can (1) buy Lukianoff’s book; (2) make a tax-deductible contribution to FIRE; and (3) contact Bob Corn-Revere whenever you think you’ve spotted an actionable offense in this area.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

ProPublica and the Problem With Journalism

Posted in Media criticism, Uncategorized

It’s symptomatic of the syndrome: So many people who presume to speak for and about journalism’s shortcomings misdiagnose both the problem and its solutions.  So it is that individuals of a certain mindset promote the idea that “corporate influence” is a problem, and nonprofit media are an answer.

One of the most prominent purveyors of the wrong stuff is the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica, the nonprofit “newsroom” that produces investigative journalism “in the public interest.”

ProPublica has received funding from such birds of a feather as George Soros and the Knight Foundation, but most has come from its founding chairman, Herbert Sandler, a man with a well-established history of giving to left-wing organizations like ACORN.

Sandler has also been the subject of withering, and occasionally comic, criticism for his role as the former head of Great West Financial.  In 2009, Time magazine named him and his wife to its list of the “25 people most responsible for the financial crisis,” and “SNL” did a skit in ’08 in which it was suggested he should be shot.

ProPublica says it focuses on stories with “moral force,” by “shining a light on the exploitation of the weak by the strong.”  With these as their mission statement, funders, and modus operandi, it will come as a shock to no one that ProPublica’s light rarely shines on issues as would discomfit liberals and progressives, even as they also publish stories that are down the middle.

Nowhere to be found this year, for instance, are investigative stories focusing of the future effects of the kind of deficit spending currently being done by states, localities, and the federal government.  No investigations of public employee unions and the role they play in stimulating those deficits.  No investigations of the outsized impact on healthcare costs caused by ambulance chasing trial lawyers.  No investigations of the derelictions and inadequacies of public school educators and administrators.

No investigations of the failure and counterproductive aspects of the many taxpayer-funded “poverty programs.”  No investigations of the obvious fraud in the exploding number of people claiming disability benefits.  No investigations of the willful misuse of claims of racial bias made by politicians and government officials.  No investigations of the compelling legal arguments, based on the First Amendment, behind decisions like Citizens United.

Instead, the kind of stuff pumped out by ProPublica, to name just a few of its current investigations, are stories in ongoing series such as:

  • Patient Safety: Exploring Quality of Care in the U.S.  More than 1 million patients suffer harm each year while being treated in the U.S. health care system.  Even more receive substandard care or costly overtreatment….
  • Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat.  Vast deposits of natural gas have brought a drilling boom across much of the country, but the technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, is suspected of causing hundreds of cases of water contamination….
  • Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data.  A series of court rulings led to the creation of super PACs and an influx of “dark money” into politics, fundamentally changing how elections work….
  • Segregation Now: Investigating America’s Racial Divide.  Investigating America’s racial divide in education, housing, and beyond….
  • Restraints.  How public school kids are being pinned down and held their (sic) against their will….

In addition to its transparent ideological affinities, ProPublica has also been implicated in the IRS scandal.  Though it attracted very little media attention, in November 2012 the IRS improperly gave (or someone leaked to) ProPublica the tax-exempt application forms of nine conservative groups, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, that had not yet been given tax-exempt status.

Shortly thereafter, ProPublica published six of those applications, with their financial information redacted.  And when, on May 10, 2013, Lois Lerner lit the fuse on a fire within the IRS that is burning still, ProPublica quickly published a story (and a week later a podcast) exonerating itself of any blame, and retelling why the organization published these applications.  (There was, according to ProPublica’s president, “a strong First Amendment interest.”)

Though ProPublica had asked for the applications by name, it did so, it says, without knowing that the groups had not been granted exemptions, and it claims not to know why the applications were sent when they should not have been.

That claim notwithstanding, anyone keeping track of their “Dark Money” series, which began many months before the IRS imbroglio, knows that ProPublica is a big fan of what is called “campaign finance reform,” suggesting the possibility that the IRS sent the applications in the hope that, were they published, this would further the agency’s crackdown on conservative tax-exempt organizations.  We simply don’t know, and may never know unless an independent prosecutor can one day get IRS officials to testify under oath.

Given, however, what is known about ProPublica’s mission and funders, one might assume that the mainstream media would be chary of working with it.  Far from it.  In fact, ProPublica’s list of partnering media reads like a who’s who of the mainstream media: the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and many, many more.

And it’s this, not the fact that ProPublica exists and does what it does, that is the most disturbing part of the ProPublica phenomenon.

The greatest problem with mainstream journalism isn’t the editorial influence of advertisers, or even the advent of the Internet, which is more of a business challenge.  As shown in polls, the greatest journalistic problem is the way in which the mainstream media, all of which profess objectivity in their news reports and feature stories, have tarnished the reputation of contemporary journalism as a check on government and as an impartial chronicler of the nation’s most important issues.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  A version of this article first appeared in The Daily Caller on July 31, 2014.

The Udall Amendment: When Politics Mean More Than the Constitution

Posted in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Journalism

It came as no surprise when, in June, Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and 41 other U.S. senators, Democrats all, proposed a campaign finance amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, Democrats and their surrogates in the media and allied advocacy groups, worried that the case would work to their political disadvantage, have been on a mission to find some way around it.

So what’s the amendment all about?  S.J. Resolution 19, as it’s called, proposes to allow Congress to regulate contributions to candidates for federal office, and to extend similar power to the states for candidates running for state office.

Language in the joint resolution avers that it would amend the Constitution “relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.”  But as Floyd Abrams, easily the most distinguished First Amendment expert of our time, said in congressional testimony, the amendment would have been more revealing and accurate if it had said that “it relates to limiting speech intended to affect elections.”

And there, of course, is the rub, since the most highly protected form of speech is political speech.  For the Senate sponsors of this amendment to have clearly and unequivocally stated its impact would have required more candor than they possess, and in addition put themselves in direct conflict with the First Amendment, as found in caselaw, and free speech, as understood by people generally.

Given that this amendment stands no chance whatsoever of making it past all the hurdles that stand in the way (2/3 majorities in both the House and Senate, and ratification by 3/4 of the states), one might wonder why the effort is being made, or why anyone should even bother talking about it.

The answer to the first question is that it’s an election stunt meant to rally the Democratic “base,” while the answer to the second is that sponsorship of this amendment shows that when politicians fear for their own, or their party’s, chances at the ballot box, anything, even the trashing of the most important part of the Bill of Rights, is fair play.

Much as the primary villains in this affair are Democrats and their allies, things might not have gone this far but for the shabby reporting and commentary that has come in the wake of the Citizens United decision.  As detailed in a piece published in Mediaite by Dan Abrams, even mainstream media like the Washington Post and New York Times have made egregious errors in their references to this case:

But reading the New York Times, Washington Post, and watching MSNBC in particular, it is hardly surprising that the public would be confused.  On January 9 (2012), in a front-page piece on the influence of Newt Gingrich supporter Sheldon Adelson, the Times inaccurately reported that Adelson’s $5 million donation to a pro-Gingrich Super PAC “underscores” how the Citizens United case “has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election.” … The opinion, in fact, did nothing of the sort….

The Washington Post has done no better.  On January 11 (2012), Dana Milbank, writing of Adelson’s $5 million donation … asserted that it was “the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which made such unlimited contributions possible.”

In fact it was the 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo, which established the right of wealthy individuals to spend unlimited amounts of their own money for independent political speech.

Some critics of Citizens United point out that with this case the Court undid some earlier decisions, most importantly a challenge in 2003 to the so-called McCain-Feingold law (McConnell v. FEC), where the Court narrowly upheld the constitutionality of that law.

But several years before Citizens United, the Court largely nullified a major section of its McCain-Feingold decision when it ruled, in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, that unless an “issue ad” expressly urged the support or defeat of a candidate it was unconstitutional to forbid its airing on TV close to the time of a primary or general election, something forbidden by McCain-Feingold, and the very issue that was at the center of Citizens United.

Finally, many advocates of campaign finance regulations have mocked the Citizens United decision for empowering corporations with First Amendment-protected free speech rights. But in fact the cases that confirmed First Amendment protection for corporations are decades old, most notably Central Hudson in 1980.

It would be possible to have an honest debate about the constitutionality of campaign finance laws, but not when the facts are twisted and the true motives of the disputants hidden from view.

 The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils. A version of this article was first  published by USA Today, on July 13, 2014.

Dropping George Will Is a Bad Way To Arrest That Subscriber Decline, Post-Dispatch

Posted in First Amendment, Free speech, Journalism, Media criticism, Publishing

Even as such things are becoming commonplace, the sacking of George Will’s syndicated column by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sets a new low in mainstream journalism’s race to the bottom.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Will wrote a piece (“Colleges become the victims of progressivism”) in which he ridiculed, in the context of a new Education Department mandate, some phony math and dubious cases being cited to demonstrate that America suffers from a rape epidemic.

Will’s larger point was that the DOE mandate threatens the loss of federal funding to colleges that do not institute a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when adjudicating allegations of sexual assault.  This, he wrote, would inevitably lead to costly litigation “against institutions that have denied due process to males they accuse of what society considers serious felonies.”

Elsewhere in his article, Will also points to the growth of campus speech codes and the idea, on some campuses, of the need for “trigger warnings” on college textbooks that feature language or concepts as might “victimize” unwary students.  Will contrasts these developments – none of which are much resisted by college faculty and administrations – often they’re welcomed – with those same colleges’ anger at another prospective DOE program, a rating system that would compare schools on things like graduation rates, student debt, and earnings after graduation.

Will concludes his piece with this: “What government is inflicting on colleges and universities, and what they are inflicting on themselves, diminishes their autonomy, resources, prestige and comity.  Which serves them right.  They have asked for this by asking for progressivism.”

So that’s it.  That’s what the piece is about.  But not to one Tony Messenger, the editorial page editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  To Mr. Messenger, Will’s column “was offensive and inaccurate,” for which apologies were in order, and sufficient grounds for dropping his column from the paper permanently.  And what, precisely, was the offensive and inaccurate thing to which Messenger objected?

Well, as reported by the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, it was: “Seeing the reaction and intensity of the hurt in some of the social media and the reaction of women I know and talking to people who really were offended by the thought that sexual assault victims would seek some special victimhood – it helped seeing that response and it informed my [Messenger’s] opinion.”

Against the slim chance that anyone wonders about it, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a long record of supporting liberal and Democratic priorities, which means that Tony Messenger fits right in.  He routinely bashes the Missouri Republican Party, often harshly, and champions every liberal cause that comes his way.

Because it’s not nice to pick on the weak, it wouldn’t be right here to speak about Messenger’s abilities in and of themselves, except perhaps to say that somewhere between his brainpan and his mouth there are little walls that prevent him from making sense when speaking.  You can witness this yourself, and in fact it’s recommend just for the humor, by checking out Messenger’s interview, available on YouTube, with a fellow named Lee Presser (“A Conversation with Tony Messenger”).  Videotaped in 2012, not long after Messenger was hired, it’s almost comic how Messenger filibusters the hard questions while still managing to back himself into rhetorical cul-de-sacs.

One such is his claim that a unique feature of his paper’s editorial page setup is its insulation from the publisher.  This, because of a special editorial board that meets regularly.  Asked by Presser who sits on that board, Messenger says it’s him, two guys who report to him, plus the editor-in-chief, who Messenger reports to, and the guy the editor reports to, the publisher.

Apart from the substantive nature of this matter, and Messenger’s personal shortcomings, there are many smaller ironies.  One is that George Will is the recipient of a Pulitzer prize, named after the former owners of the St Louis Post-Dispatch.  (It and some other newspapers were purchased from Pulitzer by Lee Enterprises for $1.5 billion, a few years after which Lee Enterprises filed for bankruptcy.)

Another is the fact that, from 2010 through the end of 2012, the Post-Dispatch’s circulation dropped from 213,472 to 178,801, while the Sunday paper dropped from over 400,000 readers to 299,000.  At the same time the paper routinely excoriated Republicans and the Republican Party, which today controls both the Missouri House and Senate by more than 2-to-1 majorities.

Asked by Presser in the aforementioned YouTube video why so many people say they no longer read the paper because of its transparent political bias, Messenger’s answer (trimmed of its fat) was that such people are confused, and that they should remember they can always write letters to the editor.

Yes, that’s it exactly.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  A version of this article was first published here on The Daily Caller on June 23, 2014.

The Human Element of War

Posted in Journalism, Uncategorized

If you like your politics unencumbered by doubt, you shouldn’t read Lone Survivor just as the ISIS is retaking parts of Iraq for which Americans once died.  You might have a hard time getting your moral and intellectual bearings at the contrast between the kind of selfless heroism shown by Marcus Luttrell and the Seals who fought and died in Afghanistan, with the seeming futility of the American campaign in Iraq.

Among the troublesome thoughts: Why did we invade Iraq?  Was it worth the loss of so many lives on both sides in a region of the world where the historical, religious, and cultural traditions are so relentlessly hostile to western values?  What will become of Afghanistan when the last of the U.S. troops leave?  Is the U.S. position in that part of the world stronger or weaker this many years later?

Make no mistake, not everyone will be so conflicted.  Certainly not the armchair warriors in some think tanks and media outlets.  For them, as for so many, the human sacrifices are bloodless things, little more than data or wooden pieces on a chessboard.

It’s only when you read the true stories of their lives and deaths, as with Luttrell’s harrowing account of a Seal mission deep inside Afghanistan in Lone Survivor, or when, as with the publication by the AP in 2009 of a photo of a dying Marine, Joshua Bernard, that the human element of such campaigns comes to light.

Much as we can marvel at the heroism of the Marcus Luttrells, we can see, even in Luttrell’s own account of things, hints of futility and contradiction.  The white-hot hatred of the U.S. military, for instance, among so many of the native mountain villagers, including those not allied with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and the remarkable courage of a Pashtun tribe who, at extraordinary risk to their own lives, sheltered and protected the wounded Luttrell even after the Taliban knew he was among them.  (Indeed, even after U.S. warplanes, searching for Luttrell, bombed areas of the countryside so close to the Pashtun tribe protecting him it damaged some of their houses!)

According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (icasualties.com), between 2003 and 2012 Operation Iraqi Freedom cost the lives of more than 4,400 American military personnel, and an additional 400 lives of allies, British for the most part.  In the same report it’s recorded that the first American fatality, in March 2003, was Lieutenant Therrel Shane Childers.  Childers was 30 years old when he was killed in action in southern Iraq.

Apart from a brief mention by NPR, and some obituaries in his and his parents’ local papers, not much was reported about Childers’s life or death.  Little or nothing in the big-city newspapers or the broadcast networks.  And more’s the pity, because it’s this, the human element in war, which has to be chronicled!  It simply isn’t good enough for the media to reduce wartime casualties to the language of partisan politics or geopolitical constructs.

In a recent blog in the Washington Post, Ed Rogers counsels Republicans to follow Sen. Rand Paul’s, rather than Dick Cheney’s, take on what the United States should do next in Iraq.  Whatever we do, or don’t do, it would be a good idea for the MSM not to overlook the human element in this.  Just as war ought not to be sugar coated, neither should it be reported as though it were a video game without real consequences.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Free Speech and the Academy

Posted in First Amendment, Free speech, Journalism, Media criticism

So here we are as a nation, at the intersection of fear and despair, and what do we get?  A blessing on the activities of the latter-day Hitler Youth among the nations “progressive” collegians!  This, courtesy of a piece written by one Lucia Graves, as published in National Journal.

Under the title “The Case for Protesting Your Commencement Speaker,” Graves manages to assemble, in the fewest number of words, more non sequiturs, straw men, and fallacies than should be permitted any professional journalist.

Of course some might argue that Graves is neither professional nor a journalist.  Having formerly written for the Huffington Post about energy matters, where she demonstrated the same facility for agitprop that she displays in the NJ piece, Graves more closely resembles a wannabe editorialist or MSNBC commentator than a journalist or reporter.

For those who get the picture already, and would rather not inflict on themselves the whole of Graves’s opus, it’s perhaps enough just to know the subtitle of her piece: “These students aren’t silencing debate.  They’re creating it.”

That statement sums up nicely the quality of what Graves has to say about the recent travesties at Rutgers, Haverford, Smith, and numerous other colleges, where students and faculty have succeeded in shouting down, or otherwise causing the cancellation of appearances at campus events, of speakers who have said or done something that gives offense to the PC police and student/faculty progressives.

Graves’s argument is reminiscent of one made by a protester at Brown University who, fresh off a successful shout down of the New York City chief of police, averred that the affair “was a powerful demonstration of free speech.”  As written at the time, the Brown case was a powerful demonstration of free speech in the same way that a mugging is a powerful demonstration of free will.

Similarly, the protesters of which Graves speaks “created debate” only in the sense that, by their actions, they have demonstrated the peril in the growth and nurturing of a mindset and a movement that are, at bottom, fascistic.

Given her inconsequence and modest ability, one might wonder about the need to criticize Graves at all.  Indeed, the criticism here is pretty tame compared to the kind she gets in the (highly recommended) comments her piece attracted in NJ itself.  Moreover, one should hasten to commend (even as Graves objects to) a number of liberal outlets, including Slate, Vox, the Nation, and the Daily Beast, which have roundly criticized the campus thuggery.

Even so, there remain reasons to criticize Graves, most notably because she’s far from alone, and the disease of which she’s a carrier is found not just on campus but off campus as well.

Witness, for instance, the latest chapter in the ongoing attempt by “climate change” activists to isolate and censor climate scientists who say or do things that indicate any degree of skepticism about the subject.

As reported, Swedish climate scientist Lennart Bengtsson’s scholarly paper was rejected for publication by a leading scientific journal after one reviewer criticized it on the grounds that it would provide fodder for climate change skeptics.  Bengtsson’s crime?  He and his four co-authors suggested that climate is less sensitive to greenhouse gases than has been reported by the UN’s IPCC.

When, as now, too many people believe that the ends justify the means, even the most basic of human rights, like freedom of speech, can be targeted by propagandists.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

The FCC’s Net Neutrality Vote

Posted in Broadband, Digital technology, FCC, Media Regulation, Network Neutrality

Not unlike the way that people present themselves as avatars in cyberspace, policymakers in Washington present themselves behind a veneer that is usually as predictable as it is tiresome. But not always!  Once or twice a decade some public official will do something that surprises, and in doing so leaves all the other players gobsmacked and reeling.

This is precisely what has happened at the FCC in recent days as the newly installed chairman, Tom Wheeler, acting in the wake of a court order, has proposed a reform of that agency’s so-called net neutrality regulations.  In a nutshell, the Wheeler proposal would allow ISPs to provide, for a fee, faster lanes to the consumer for content providers.

If you are one of those people who don’t find the idea of paying more for better things to be a deeply radical idea, your problem is that you’re unschooled in the ways of political posturing, rhetoric, and the lay of the land.  You don’t understand that, to Democrats especially, the “free and open Internet” cannot allow upgrades of the sort that would make any content provider (and that provider’s customers) happier than any other provider or its customers.  Distributive justice, you know.

In the grip of this construct, the Internet must remain a static and unchanging highway, never in need of pothole filling or additional traffic lanes.

Which is not to say that Republicans, too, don’t like Wheeler’s proposal.  Indeed, the confounding fact is that both of the Republicans on the Commission voted against the proposal while all three of the Democrats voted for it!  And in truth the Republicans are correctly concerned about the precedential effect of net neutrality on the formerly unregulated Internet.  In his statement opposing the measure, Republican Commissioner O’Rielly made this argument cogently, just as former commissioner McDowell had before him.

Still, there is the gnawing concern that, given the way the pieces are deployed on the board right now, it might have been better in the long run if the Republicans had given Wheeler some support for breaking from the Democratic ranks.

Whatever the future may hold, one thing is clear: The final resolution of this matter is nowhere in sight.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

 

Nowhere To Hide

Posted in Digital technology, First Amendment

Because free speech aficionados like us are attracted to those subjects where even angels fear to tread, let’s talk about Donald Sterling.

The first thing one wants to say is that the guy is a slob.  Indeed, there’s evidence that he’s been a slob for quite some time.  Read, for instance (if you have the stomach for it) an account of the 2003 lawsuit filed against his former mistress–not his more recent one, V. Stiviano, but an earlier flower child named Alexandra Castro.

Indeed, one would be willing to wage a fair amount of money on the proposition that when Sterling passes away, he will do so unwept by anyone.  Whatever joys and beauties this life offers up, Sterling has had, and abused, all of them.

But the question that has been on my mind is this: Is Sterling a slob because of the statements he made, or did he make those statements because he’s a slob?  There is, it seems, a difference worth noting, especially at a time when, because of the growing lack of privacy, anything (including what one might consider the most intimate and confidential conversation) may find its way into widespread distribution.

Consider, for instance, Google glasses, or the even more worrisome prospect of video camera-embedded contact lenses!  What, then, would prevent the recording, editing, and uploading – to sites like Google’s YouTube – of conversations that were recorded and edited, in or out of context, of which the speakers were unaware?

Does there exist any person in the world who has not said something in confidence, or without reflection, or just for effect on the hearer, that he or she would not want bruited about?

As stressed at the beginning, none of this is said in defense of Donald Sterling.  He is of no interest or consequence, whatever becomes of him.  But as reported, on CNN, by First Amendment lawyer Mark Randazzo:

Isn’t it bad enough that the National Security Agency can spy on all of us? How can we complain when we condone giving our friends the ability to do worse – perhaps just to try to destroy us?

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Net Neutrality: Fast Lanes and the Usual Suspects

Posted in Digital technology, Network Neutrality

You can sometimes judge the quality of a thing by those who oppose it.  In the case of FCC Chairman Wheeler’s plan to allow the sale of “fast lanes” by Internet service providers, we have the usual suspects.

There is, for instance, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), about whom it’s impossible to say a single flattering thing, and organizations like Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and Free Press, whose role, these days, is to be the routinely embarrassing coiners of nonsensical slogans like “Net Neutrality: The First Amendment of the Internet.”

So these, and more, have been roused to high dudgeon by a plan that would allow ISPs to give Internet content providers the opportunity to pay more for a speedier route to consumers.  (Oh no, not that!)

The Media Institute has spent a lot of time with “net neutrality,” and we were pleased that under former FCC chairman Genachowski the FCC adopted a “lite” form of it.  But we also said it was a solution in search of a problem, and that the only lasting effect of it would be to set a precedent for regulation of the theretofore unregulated Internet.

Still, judging by the negative reaction to the modest plan offered by Wheeler – a plan that was in direct response to a court order, and that reportedly keeps in place restrictions against all the kinds of dastardly things ISPs were falsely accused of planning to do – there’s a core of people who can’t get away from the “cause.”

One of the more flamboyant of the bunch is former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who, on the subject, is reported to have relieved himself of this nugget: “If the Commission subverts the Open Internet by creating a fast lane for the 1 percent and slow lanes for the 99 percent, it would be an insult to both citizens and to the promise of the Net.”

Time will tell whether more people think it’s Wheeler’s plan, or Copps’s statement, which is the greater insult.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Political Correctness Takes a Turn for the Worse

Posted in First Amendment, Free speech, Journalism, Media criticism

It’s widely understood that “political correctness” can be employed as a speech-killing device.   But it’s only been in recent times that we’ve been able to witness the full range of its lethality.

From colleges and universities like Fordham, Brown, and Brandeis have come recent, ugly demonstrations of intolerance, based on PC–themed arguments, which have yielded a suppression of “disfavored” speech on those campuses.

Elsewhere, columnist Charles Krauthammer reports that in February, the Washington Post received 110,000 signatures on a petition demanding a ban on any article questioning global warming!

In the midst of all this have come a number of commentaries, mostly written by conservatives or libertarians, decrying this state of affairs, and the apparent acquiescence in it of mainstream entertainment and journalism outfits.

Subjects that have prompted recent censorious acts include opposition to (1) the Affordable Care Act; (2) global warming or “climate change”; (3) same-sex marriage; and (4) abortion.

The role of the media in the growth of the speech police hasn’t been so much a matter of their overt support as of their benign neglect.  So it is that environmental organizations can brand climate change skeptics as “deniers,” whose views are unworthy of circulation or consideration, safe in the knowledge that most in the mainstream media agree with their take on the issue, even if they may not themselves encourage censorship activities.

So too with the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, and abortion, opposition to all of which has been loudly and uncritically attributed to racism, homophobia, and a “war on women,” respectively.

As Krauthammer put it in his piece about the number of signatures on the global warming petition: “The left is entering a new phase of ideological intolerance – no longer trying to win the debate but stopping debate altogether, banishing from public discourse any and all opposition….  Long a staple of academia, the totalitarian impulse is spreading.  What to do?  Defend the dissenters, even if – perhaps, especially if – you disagree with their policy.  It is – it was? – the American way.”

It’s against this backdrop that one reads with considerable relief an article published last week in … Nation magazine!  Written by Michelle Goldberg, and titled “#Cancel Colbert and the Return of the Anti-Liberal Left,” this slim offering is one of the best, and more encouraging, things written about political correctness in recent memory.  It’s one of the best because of the reasoning employed in the piece; it’s important because of its publication in the resolutely left-wing Nation.

But don’t take my word for it.  Read on:

It’s increasingly clear that we are entering a new era of political correctness.  Recently, we’ve seen the calls to #CancelColbert because of something outrageous said by Stephen Colbert’s blowhard alter ego, who has been saying outrageous things regularly for nine years….  Then there’s the sudden demand for “trigger warnings” on college syllabi, meant to protect students from encountering ideas or images that may traumatize them….

Call it left-wing anti-liberalism: the idea, captured by Herbert Marcuse in his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance, that social justice demands curbs on freedom of expression and that “it is possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite.  Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones….”

Note both the belief that correct opinions can be dispassionately identified, and the blithe confidence in the wisdom of those empowered to do the suppressing.

What Goldberg calls “left-wing anti-liberalism,” others might characterize more harshly.  Take, for instance, the example of the group called Media Matters for America, created for no other reason than to attempt to silence conservative voices.  To characterize such a group as merely anti-liberal, or anti-conservative, would seem like a rather dainty way of putting it.

Beyond MMA, there are other groups and individuals, whose actions or theories play a role in the speech suppression business.  Robert McChesney, co-founder of the septic organization misnamed Free Press, comes to mind.

This said, there’s much to be appreciated in Goldberg’s thesis.  For one thing there’s the consoling fact that, for all the cultural and political differences currently roiling the nation, there are certain bedrock principles, like free speech, that people of vastly different perspectives can rally around.

For a nation founded on the principles of popular democracy and the Bill of Rights, this is a good thing indeed.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.